Interview With Maragold
- Greg Howe
- Meghan Krauss
- Kevin Vecchione
- Gianluca Palmieri
Maragold is the brand new band from guitarist Greg Howe. After a long and successful career recording and performing instrumental rock fusion music and playing sideman to some of the biggest names in pop music, Howe decided the time was right for a different direction.
To form his new band, Howe looked no further than bassist Kevin Vecchione and drummer Gianluca Palmieri, both long time friends who had recorded and toured with Greg on his solo projects.
The only thing left was the voice, which after a somewhat drawn out process, they eventually found in singer Meghan Krauss.
Maragold released their self-titled, debut album in April of 2013, for which you can read the Guitar-Muse review here.
Fresh off of their first tour in Russia, the band took some time away from their very busy schedule to talk with Guitar-Muse about how the band came about and the recording of their first album.
GM: Let’s talk about how this whole project came together.
Greg: I’ve wanted to put a vocal band together for years, and I had talked to Kevin about it many times, but my schedule over the last few years has been crazy with traveling and other projects, so there really wasn’t an ideal opportunity until we just sort of made one happen, and really just forced ourselves to put the time in to make things happen.
Originally, we had another singer in mind, but it didn’t work out, so we ended up having a starting point of a lot of songs, but we didn’t actually have a band.
I had it in my mind that Gianluca would probably be the drummer because I had worked with him often, on tours and on a record. So we had these songs, but we didn’t actually have a singer.
Kevin had turned me on to Meghan, who of course sounded amazing, and we basically took a stab at asking her to come on board, and she agreed. Obviously, there is more to it, but that’s the basics on how it came about.
Kevin: Meghan is closer geographically to me than Greg and Gianluca are, so you’re going to hear about Meghan eventually, just being that close to her geographically. We were in the same circles, and we met up because people said, “You’ve got to check this girl out.” She only lives about 40 minutes away from me, and you know how small musician circles are, and how word gets around. I think we actually did a gig together at one point, didn’t we Meghan?
Meghan: We did, yeah. We played several times together.
GM: Meghan, you get this opportunity to try out for Maragold, and I guess things must have happened kind of fast. Was that a big adjustment to come out of singing in cover bands and join an original band?
Meghan: It definitely was. It was incredible and overwhelming all at the same time. But they’re such humble, nice guys and they’re so welcoming, it was very easy for me to transition.
GM: Do you think that singing in cover bands was a good preparation for what you’re doing now?
Meghan: I think any experience, be it singing different styles of music or taking the stage in different environments, is an advantage for any performer, and is really going to help me in any aspect of my musical career. And it helps me bring my own style to what we’re doing. I’m so influenced by so many different styles of music, that it brings something unique to what we have, which is kind of fun.
GM: Cover band vocalists – the good ones anyway – don’t get a whole lot of credit, but actually it’s one of the hardest jobs to do if you’re busy, because you have to sing so many different styles, for long periods of time. I imagine that builds up your vocal chops quite a bit.
Meghan: It’s definitely taxing, because you’re singing three hours of material a night, and you’re working often, sometimes four, five, six nights a week, so you’re definitely pushing it. It makes it seem like a vacation when you’re doing originals.
GM: Meghan, I read that you’re classically trained, and that’s how you started?
Meghan: My dad thinks that anything that’s not classical is country, and he’s not a huge fan of country. He loves Maragold shockingly, but everything else is country to him – whether it’s R&B or Pop – it’s all country to him. He told me that he would support me taking vocal lessons, but he wanted it to be classical, which is why I started singing opera when I was pretty young. I studied that through college. I was always influenced by blues, and soul, and rock and funk, but I started out with classical, so it’s an interesting amalgamation of styles of music for sure.
GM: I can definitely sense the blues influence in your vocal style. What vocalists would you attribute that side of you?
Meghan: That’s so tough. I love the greats: Gladys Night, Arethra Franklin, and Flash Jordan, and Susan Tedeschi, anyone who has character and depth in their vocals. I love that sound, be it male or female. That’s what inspired me going out.
Greg: It’s kind of hard to say because a lot of the songs on the album are a formation of ideas that I’ve had for a long time. So there are some things that are riff ideas that I had 10 years ago. Some of the other stuff was stuff that we did when we got together, so it’s brand new.
There was that one point where we were thinking about that other singer. Probably a good three years ago we went to Rochester where this other singer lived, and we just threw some ideas around – it was Kevin, me and Gianluca. We recorded some very rough, raw recordings. Some of those ideas were either used on the album, or we ended up developing them into songs. But it’s really hard to identify the timeline.
Kevin and I got together about 8 months before we went to record the vocals for the tracks. Kevin came out here to Vegas, and we solidified the ideas – so basically October of 2011 to roughly April of last year is when the songs got developed and recorded correctly, and ready for Meghan to come in and sing on. Then we basically recorded her in April of last year.
GM: So basically when Meghan came in all the songs were written. So she had to find a way to fit on top of that. Was that a challenging process?
Meghan: A lot of it was kind of magical and worked out incredibly well. There was one song where we changed the key like 4 times, then ended up changing it altogether.
Greg: There were some adjustments that had to be made because of her range, and just making sure that what we had written was going to work with her. Sometimes the adjustment would be to transpose the song, and sometimes it was to change the melody, or both. But for the most part, Meghan is right, it came together pretty easily.
Kevin: That was because of Meghan, because she murdered it so crazy style. I’ve never seen a vocalist go into a studio and kill it that fast, and that naturally.
Greg: It’s true. I’ve seen so many recording sessions, and situations where the singer will sing five words of the first verse, and then you stop, make adjustments, then you get the next five words. I’ve seen people do one word punches, where a vocal performance will take two days for one song.
Typically it takes even a really good singer a good four or five times just to get into the song. Before it starts to even be worthy of tracking.
The situation here was even crazier than we’re describing, because in many cases Meghan didn’t know the melody line that we had intended, and didn’t know the lyrics. So, she would come into the studio and have the lyrics in front of her, have to learn them, have to learn the melody, and then go in and start singing, and even under those conditions, a lot of times, right out of the gate it was already a take worthy of putting on the album.
Meghan: A little bit. [laughs]
Kevin: There was one song on the record, that was written as an original song, then became a cover song, then went back to an original song. It was a fascinating journey. In fact, we still have it recorded as a cover tune, which I think we all forgot about.
We wrote it as an original song, then Gianluca was singing the vocal tune over it, and it fit, even though the tune is totally different. It just works over the template. We explored it but then in the end we decided to go all original for our first record, but we still have that. I’m not going to tell you what the cover song was though.
Gianluca: We might want to use it for our next record.
GM: Would you divulge the name of the track?
Greg: We could do that. The track is actually the one that’s currently called “Paradigm Tsunami.”
GM: I guess you’ll leave us guessing what the cover was…
Meghan: I don’t think anyone could ever guess.
Kevin: Not in a million years. It is on the other side of the planet.
GM: The name Maragold is interesting, where did that come from?
Greg: That was really just a random idea that Kevin and I came up with. Kevin came up with the lyric “Marigold” in the song “Evergreen is Golder,” and at that point we still didn’t have a name for the band. I remember when the word “Marigold” came up we kind of looked at each other like, “That’s kind of a cool name for a band.”
There really wasn’t any kind of a deep search for that. Originally, I wanted a name that wasn’t a real word, rather, a word we invented. We had a name called Cinomine, but every time we wrote it down and showed it to people, everybody interpreted it as “Cinnamon,” which really wasn’t going to work for us.
Kevin: And it’s still an original word, because we didn’t use the spelling of the flower. It’s also cool in that you don’t have a bunch of Google searches competing with a botany department at the University of Pennsylvania.
GM: How did you guys spell Cinomine?
Meghan: Well, that’s a good question, because we spelled it about five different ways.
Kevin: In print, every spelling looked cool, but it just all sounded like cinnamon.
GM: Not so rock and roll to be “Cinnamon.”
Kevin: No, that’s like the second record of the Spice Girls.
Greg: It was a little bit different because I’ve been in one of those unique situations where I’ve worked for a record label that is exactly the opposite of every other label, in the sense that I would submit things to Mike Varney and he would get back to me and say, “It’s pretty cool, but I need more notes,” which is pretty much the opposite of what any other label would ever say to you.
In this case it was fun because I didn’t have to adhere to any agenda. Just listen to the song, and try to feel what was most appropriate. I really wasn’t coming at it from a “guitar hero” place. I really was thinking, “What can I do to make the song better? If there is going to be a guitar solo, how is it going to enhance the song, and if it’s not going to, what’s the point of having one?”
That’s why there are two or three songs where there is no guitar solo, because putting one in there wasn’t going to enhance the song. The thought process was actually a lot more fun and a lot more organic, because it was more about the music as a collective and not having anything be featured. Really, the focal point of the record was to be Meghan, which I think it is, so my approach was to really keep to that premise.
Even with instrumental music, I always believe that the song is the most important thing, so I always look at my guitar playing as an enhancement on top of something that’s already there. My music has never really been driven by the guitar. It’s more like the guitar has always been the icing on the cake. So in that sense it was similar.
Greg: I have a tendency to not know what the heck I did on the record most of the time, because when I record solos, I’m really just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. I don’t really write solos, I’ll track things over and over again until it feels right.
A lot of times, when I hear something back and it’s right, it’s just a feeling I’ll get. A lot of times I hear things that I play on the record, and don’t know exactly what I did. If the solo has a very thematic approach, like the solo from “Oracle,” which really follows the vocal melody lines, to me that’s part of the song, so I’ll keep those pieces.
But when it comes to others songs, a lot of times I don’t have any idea what I played on the record, so it’ll be total improvisation.
When we go out to tour, I’ll try to create at least an outline of what’s on the record, just because I know that people want to hear that. I’m not going to copy the solos, because I do like to improvise, but at the same time, I will try to keep the theme in mind.
Meghan: Your solos on the record have this amazing haunting quality; they definitely stick with you. So I think that people expect to hear that because it’s such a part of the song.
There were so many times when we were recording, and Greg would send a rough of a solo, and I was like, “This is the best solo I’ve ever heard in my life!” Then the next day he’d say, “That was the worst solo I’ve ever played, I’m re-doing it,” and I’d be like, “Nooo!”
Then somehow he’d send it back and it would be a million times better than the one I’d heard before. It turns out he knows what he is doing.
Greg: It’s dangerous having free time in a studio.
GM: Yeah, you almost have to set yourself a deadline when you’re coming up with a solo, or just finishing a creative project in general, otherwise you can sit there forever, trying to do better and better.
Greg: I’m the worst at that, because no matter what it is, I’m always hearing the next higher level version. I really do have to do exactly what you said. I have to cut myself off, and say, “That’s it. The end.”
Kevin: There were a couple of times I remember yelling at you to not change things. I had said, “If you change it, I’m leaving.” [laughter]
Because the parts were so good, I was like, “No, that’s awesome.” And when he’s in it, he gets lost in the spaghetti, and it’s nice to have an outside person listening to it and not being in the picture. You can’t see the picture when you’re in the picture.
Greg: For me it’s necessary.
Kevin: Yeah, we yell at him often.
Greg: Meghan is very similar.
Meghan: I’m the worst. I don’t even listen. I can’t listen to my stuff at all.
Kevin: Meghan hasn’t heard the record. She actually hasn’t listened to it.
Meghan: Did I sing on it? Am I actually on the mastered version of that? [laughter]
Kevin: I’m the same way. When I solo up those bass tracks, it sounds like Geezer Butler just smoked an ounce of weed [laughter]. I think musicians have that in common; we’re pretty fragile people in general.
Greg: I hear it as a collective, I really do. So maybe it’s the way Gianluca approached the high hat, or something Kevin did on a rough mix, it’s just got some magic to it, and I tell him, “I need that back again, I need you to recreate that.”
So when I’m listening, it’s really an overall thing. It was tough, because while mixing, we’d have five or six takes of Meghan singing a song, and every single take is amazing, but they’d all have their own special moments, and it just becomes so hard to decide what to take and what to choose. So it really comes down to sitting back and listening to it more objectively, and asking myself, “If I wasn’t a musician, what am I listening to right now that would hit me the hardest?” And that’s the toughest part.
GM: You guys recently played in Russia, how was that?
Greg: It was great. We had great turnout. It was really our first outing as a band, so it was a great opportunity to get the live thing out of our systems. We had a lot of fun over there.
Kevin: The fans really were cool, and dug it. They were amazing people, they were just so into it, and hung around afterwards for a long time to hang out with the band. Really loving people, they were very appreciative.
Meghan: For me it was a really amazing experience to play our songs, and see people singing along with them for the first time in a place where you’re not even sure if people are familiar with your music yet. It’s really an awesome experience. You get a reaction from people when you play covers, but when it’s your band, and your music and you see that reaction from the crowd, it’s pretty amazing.
GM: That first show in Russia, was that the first show the band has played together?
GM: Was that nerve wracking?
Greg: A little bit, yeah. [laughter]
Meghan: We have great chemistry, and everything has been so fluid and easy up to this point. It wasn’t like we were terrified to get up on stage, but being in a different country, where most people don’t speak your language, and doing it for the first time, on other people’s gear. It was definitely interesting.
Greg: It’s an interesting challenge, but it’s good because if you can get through a show and do well when your backline is being supplied by a company in Siberia, then you kind of feel confident that you can do it anywhere.
GM: Do you guys have any plans to tour the States? And are there any other tour plans?
Greg: We do have plans to tour the States. We’re not sure when that’s going to happen. There is a tentative plan to go out in the States toward the beginning of next year, but that is not as definitive as our European tour plans. The European tour is absolutely happening.
GM: For your live show, do you guys add any cover songs to the set list?
Greg: I think we are going to. We didn’t last time out. But we are definitely going to for the upcoming shows, because I think it’s really cool to do that. We are lovers of music and I think that paying tribute to great songs and great bands is always something that the crowd picks up on, and they dig it. I think we will do that.
Gianluca: It’s always really challenging to figure out what covers we want to play, because we love so many songs, and during rehearsals, everyone comes up with ideas, and there is a discussion for a half hour, “No we should do that one,” “Yeah, but that one is cooler.” So it’s going to be interesting to figure out which ones we play.
Greg: That’s really tough, I’ve been influenced by so much, that I think indirectly and subconsciously, all of those influences seep into the creative process. Whether it’s classic stuff like The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Led Zepplin, all the way to more current stuff like John Mayer, Maroon 5, and everything in between. Even a lot of the instrumental projects that I’ve been involved with, everything has had an influence on me, so I don’t know that I could identify anything specifically.
Kevin: I will give you one little tidbit. There was one kick and snare pattern [on the album] that was inspired by Marlena Shaw. And that’s all I’m gonna say. The reason I say that is, not many people know who Marlena Shaw is.
GM: Do you guys have personal favorite songs on the record, or that you love to play live?
Kevin: Listening and playing are two different things for me. I loved every song on the record, and then when we played them, there were ones that went further than the record, and then I liked them for a different reason – songs that I might not have been so attracted to just listening.
Greg: I love playing “Penniless And Sane,” more than listening to it. I like the song, but I was surprised at how much I liked playing it live.
Meghan: I agree.
Gianluca: “Penniless” is probably the most fun to play live, because it has such an interesting drive, talking about the drums, “Penniless” is very simple, but the drive of the song is hard to describe, but you can play a simple beat and really be into it. A little different from ”Paradigm Tsunami” which is probably the hardest song, but it’s such a different feel. “Penniless” is a lot of fun.
GM: What has been the biggest challenge for the band so far?
Greg: I think the biggest challenge is the fact that we all live in different parts of the country. It means that whenever we get together to do anything, whether it’s a video, a photo shoot, or a recording or rehearsal, at least two of us have to relocate. I think that’s been the biggest challenge, but it’s really been the only significant challenge, and we’ve been able to address it.